Nintendo Color-TV Game 6 (カラー テレビゲーム6)

Do you think Nintendo started in home video gaming with the Famicom? The Game & Watch?

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It actually all started in 1977 with this, the Color-TV Game 6.CTVG6_7199

Pre-dating the Famicom by six years, The Color-TV Game 6 was a Pong clone, offering six variations on the basic light tennis formula. Above is the first edition, CTG-6S, which came in a creamy white colour. Subsequent releases were orange, below right is the most common variant, the CTV-6V.

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You can play a classic Pong type game, plus variations with half sized paddles, and a mode with four paddles.

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It runs off six C batteries, and connects via RF as per all consoles of the era.

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The orange re-releases also added the ability to use an external power adapter.

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The orange ones also had improved dials. They rotate more smoothly, have less ‘give’ before they star registering, and stop rotating when your paddle is off the screen. CTG-6S dials just keep rotating, and your paddle comes back from the top of the screen after moving off the bottom, and vice versa.

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The manuals of these two variants.

It’s pretty primitive but works perfectly 38 years later. The simple circuitry is pretty sturdy and will likely outlast most consoles easily.

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It was followed up by the Color TV-Game 15 which featured more pong versions, Color TV-Game Racing which played a car game, Color TV-Game Block Breaker which was a Breakout clone, the Computer TV-Game which played Othello, and finally the Family Computer.

But it all started here.

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This one is still in the original shipping box.

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Circus Charlie (サーカスチャーリー) – Secret Konami Famicom game #2

Similar to Smash Ping PongCircus Charlie is a Konami arcade game that was released on the Famicom, but published by another company. In this case the publisher is the mysterious Soft Pro International, who dropped a few 8-bit games in the 80s then disappeared.CircusCharlie_3460

Circus Charlie 1In the game you play as Charlie the clown, and must perform various stunts for the crowd over five levels. The first level has Charlie riding a lion and jumping through rings of fire.

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There’s also tightrope walking, trapeze, balancing balls, and a strange level where you jump onto trampolines from the back of a pony.

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It’s very much in the early 80s arcade mould of simple, short levels which repeat after a loop, and the goal after seeing each level is simply to get the high score (think Donkey Kong).

Circus Charlie 14It’s a relatively faithful adaptation of the arcade game. Five out of six levels are intact, and they play almost identically, despite the move from vertical to horizontal orientation.

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But while sound effects and music are pretty much on par, the graphics have taken a pretty big hit. Gone are the bright, colourful tones of the arcade, replaced with a sad, drab circus right out of the Communist Bloc.

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Comrade Charlie?

Matching the early Famicom arcade heritage gameplay and presentation, Circus Charlie comes in the original small size Famicom box, much like the first Nintendo games, and the original Konami orange package line.CircusCharlie_3473

Circus Charlie was later released in original arcade form in the compilation packages Konami 80’s Arcade Gallery on the original Playstation and Konami Arcade Collection on Nintendo DS. The Playstation version is pretty much the go-to if you want to experience Circus Charlie properly. The DS version is a nice novelty but to view the game in correct vertical resolution you need to hold the DS sideways which is pretty awkward.

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As for the Famicom release? It’s still pretty fun, in that pre-Super Mario Bros arcade gameplay kind of way. It is however extremely rare. I bought the only boxed copy I have ever seen.

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Konami Orange Box Famciom line – complete set

Konami’s first Famicom line was basically a direct copy of the Nintendo template, except with consistent  orange colouring. There were seven games in the series, and this is the complete setKonamiBoxes_3465 Road Fighter, Antarctic Adventue, Hyper Sports, Twinbee, Hyper Olympic, Yie Air Kung Fu, and Goonies.KonamiBoxes_3467Goonies was somewhat of a transition game – it skips the uniform ‘FAMILY COMPUTER’ branded sides of the preceding six releases and started the short-lived ‘puppy face’ icon period. The next Konami release was Gradius, which is I believe the final Konami release to feature the old 70s style logo.KonamiBoxes_3475The next evolution is shown here in King Kong 2 – which maintained the size of Gradius and introduced the new Konami logo.KonamiBoxes_3478Contra is an early example of the final evolution, with the artwork framed by a bright colour which covered the rest of the box, and the Konami logo on a white background in the top left corner. Almost every Konami game for the rest of the Famicom generation followed this final template.KonamiBoxes_3480

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Of course there are exceptions to every rule…

It’s nowhere near as consistent as their flawless Famicom Disk release presentation. But it’s still a relatively classy line.

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The Goonies (グーニーズ) Famicom Disk – Retail Release Reproduction

There were two Konami games on Disk System which were not released at retail, and only available as re-writes via Disk System Writer Kiosks – The Goonies and Twinbee. After much searching I managed to get my hands on a single disk with both games on it.

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Disk Writer games came with a nice official printed disk label and fold-out paper manual.GooniesFDS_3

But it doesn’t match the rest of the otherwise beautifully consistent Konami Disk System catalogue.GooniesFDS_5

Since FDS inserts are just thin cards, I decided I could make up a reproduction retail release for Goonies, based on the cartridge box.GooniesFDS_6

I scanned the nicer quality image from the cart label, and got going in photoshop.GooniesFDS_7

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For the logo, black looked a little bland, so I took inspiration from Goonies 2 and Akumajou Dracula, and went with red, using the original black logo from the cart release as a drop-shadow. I used Akumajou Dracula and Exciting Basketball as templates for the basic formatting of the disk case label and outer-box label.

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I had it professionally printed on 200gsm satin printing paper, and here’s the result! Goonies on side A, Twinbee on side B, so Goonies gets main billing.GooniesFDS_11

Looks great in disk-case format and full case format!GooniesFDS_12GooniesFDS_13GooniesFDS_15GooniesFDS_14

Now Goonies/Twinbee can take its place with the rest of the Konami FDS set!GooniesFDS_16

And I can finally play Goonies with additional load times!Goonies1 Goonies2

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Goonies Family (Computer) photo.GooniesFDS_17

Nintendo industrial design in the early 80s

Nintendo had such a classy ‘brushed metal on high quality coloured plastic’ aesthetic in the early 80s, carried over from their original ‘Color TV game’ console series, through the Game & Watch series, and on to the Famicom.

This post is a celebration of that aesthetic.

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My pilgrimage to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto

I’ve been a Nintendo fan for 30 years, and I was in Kyoto for the first time. Well I had to go to Nintendo, didn’t I?

First stop was very hard to find, and Google (at least in English) was very little help. I wanted to see the oldest surviving Nintendo building, buried in the backstreets of a now largely residential area of Kyoto.

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After some research (largely machine translating Japanese walking tour maps), I worked out it was somewhere near here, which was around 15 minutes walk from the apartment we were staying in.

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So we set off the next morning. After a lot of wandering in the freezing cold winter air, we found it!

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Built in 1933, it sits on the same land as the original headquarters from 1889. While nicely designed with lots of detailed flourishes, it’s an otherwise relatively nondescript building. Except for two plaques:

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The sign references Japanese playing cards ‘Karuta’ (かるた) and western playing cards ‘Trump’ (トランプ – Toranpu)

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This was their playing card factory and distribution centre before they became a larger toy company, and it has stayed in company hands.

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 I took a peek inside as well, it is clearly well maintained and clean, and in some form of use.

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It appears to have been maintained perfectly from the 1933 until today.

The next stop would be much easier to find. It was about 40 minutes walk away through residential and industrial areas, though we stopped in at a couple of Kyoto’s famous temples along the way.

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Until it appeared…

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Mecca.

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Two blocks away there is the other monolith, the new development building.

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Not too much to see, you’re not allowed in either building. But they do have a nice big sign at the development centre.KyotoNintendo_0067

The Sega Mark III FM Sound Unit (FMサウンドユニット)

The Mark III was released two years later than the Famicom, and has slightly more powerful graphics hardware. But it still has worse sound capabilities. So Sega developed the FM unit for those customers who would be happy to pay more for superior audio. It adds in a Yamaha FM sound chip for Mega Drive-like sound effects and music.

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The FM unit sits snugly on the recessed top part of the console, and plugs into the front expansion port.

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A cable extends out the back of the FM unit to capture the console’s video and regular audio.

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It plugs into the AV out, using five of the eight pins (so no RGB available)

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You then attach your AV cable to the FM unit’s AV out, which passes through video, regular audio and adds in the FM audio for supported software.

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Yes, supported software. Games had to be specifically coded to support the FM unit. This was displayed on the front of the box on the bottom left, see my copies of Kenseiden and After Burner below.

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Is it worth it? You bet! It makes your Segamaku sound like a Mega Drive! Definitely a worthwhile upgrade, even though working FM units regularly sell for up to 10,000 yen these days.

About the Sega Mark III (セガマークIII)

While Nintendo’s first console, the Color TV Game 6, was released in 1977, Sega only turned to consumer hardware development in the early 80s. The original Sega console, the SG 1000, was released, as fate may have it, on the same day as the original Famicom.

It was basically a Japanese edition of the current crop of American consoles, equivalent in power to the Colecovision. Unfortunately for Sega, the Famicom was a massive generational leap in power over these machines.

The SG-1000 got a quick redesign as the SG-1000 II, and when Sega got around to releasing an actual Famicom competitor, they decided on a new naming convention – and called it the ‘Sega Mark III’. I assume it’s a play on ‘Mach 3’.

The SG1000 II

The Mark III, like the SG1000-II before it. takes a lot of design cues from the Famicom. It has controller docks on the side of the console (though the controllers are not permanently attached), a similar cartridge bay flap, and shiny metallic highlights. It unfortunately maintains the SG-1000 II’s controller limitation of only two buttons.

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I love the ’80s futurism’ aesthetic of these things. It looks like it belongs on an 80s spaceship. The controller docks are great too.

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They’re pretty good controllers too. So much better than Master System controllers, which have the same internals but a much less comfortable shape.

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They also come with this mini-joystick that can be screwed into the centre.Mark3controller2
Mark III consoles and accessories were made in Japan, but by the time of the Master System, Sega had began the practice of outsourcing console and accessory production to cheaper countries like Taiwan, Malaysia and China, and quality took a big dip.

There’s also the FM unit, which makes it look even more 80s.

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It’s a great console that is very hard to come by. While games are available, I didn’t see a single console for sale in any retro games store (or Hard Off) on a recent Japan trip.